Charities Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 12th October 2005.

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Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip 3:45 pm, 12th October 2005

My Lords, under the existing legal framework charities may engage in campaigning so long as it is in furtherance of their charitable purposes. Of course, organisations that exist solely to pursue political purposes cannot be given charitable status. We think that that is right; the words uttered by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, coincide with our views.

The extent of charities' freedom to campaign has been strongly supported by government. In 2002 the Strategy Unit published its report, Private Action, Public Benefit, which recommended that the Charity Commission's guidance on the subject be updated and revised in order to place greater emphasis on the campaigning and political activities that charities can engage in. When the commission subsequently published revised guidance in 2004 it was widely promoted and welcomed extensively across the charitable sector. Its enabling approach highlighted the freedoms of the existing legal framework.

On the issue of charities campaigning specifically for a change in the law, they are already free to support or oppose the passage of parliamentary Bills if such support or opposition is in furtherance of their charitable purpose. Daily we receive missives from charitably funded organisations doing exactly that. Charities working internationally may seek to promote a change in legislation or public policy on the same principle: that the change is in furtherance of their charitable purposes.

As I said, the commission's guidance, which set out the current legal position on campaigning and political activities by charities, was welcomed and the commission is not aware of any strength of feeling from the charitable sector on any need to alter or change it at this stage. For those reasons, although I am sure that the amendment was moved with good spirit, and attractive as it is, we cannot give any support to it.